Being a fan of a long-running and beloved franchise can be a frustrating affair at times. Perhaps the franchise may go decades without another entry, ensuring it becomes little more than a nostalgic memory. The publisher might try to milk the IP for all its worth by launching a mobile gacha game that borders on being outright predatory. Maybe a spiritual successor gets made and completely misses the mark, leaving fans concerned that the magic is simply gone. The next step? How about an action RPG spin-off by a developer with no relation to the original team? All of these have happened to the Valkyrie series. However, while fans like myself were rightfully concerned with Valkyrie Elysium‘s initial reveal, developer SoleiL have proven that they too are fans with a great love for the series. They’ve built a solid foundation, yet they may have restrained themselves a little too much.
From the moment it was announced, Valkyrie Elysium was a game that I was cautiously optimistic about. While the reveal was a poor showing, the subsequent trailers were more promising. As the Valkyrie Profile games are easily my favorite games ever, it was hard not to feel concerned and disappointed. I’d prepared myself for a bastardized knock-off that we’ve seen in other franchises — a feeling fans of the Front Mission, Shining, and Valkyria series know all too well. Although the demo preview was promising, it was hard not to shake the concern. Thankfully, Valkyrie Elysium feels like a fresh take on the series while remaining true to most of the themes and elements in the Valkyrie games.
The shift in genre from turn-based RPG to action RPG isn’t particularly surprising, especially given the Valkyrie series’ emphasis on timed hits, juggling enemies, and racking up hundreds of hits on foes in flashy combos. The series staple, einherjar—fallen warriors who fight at the side of a valkyrie—act as summoned allies with elemental abilities on a time limit. Divine Arts, composed of familiar magic and skills, return as well. There are many familiar parts and pieces of the Valkyrie series assembled into this new vessel, but it still feels somewhat alien.
While Valkyrie Elysium is an action RPG on the surface, it leans far more heavily into stylish character action than I had anticipated. Oftentimes, action RPGs will dip their toe into the character action pool and go no further than a launcher and a handful of aerial combos. Valkyrie Elysium goes further into the Devil May Cry style by continually expanding the move list, granting multiple launchers, Bayonetta-esque “Witch Time” dodges, perfect / just counters, parries, and more. The move list quickly becomes dizzying as you learn new moves tied to your jump and dodge phases. For example, different attacks will trigger depending on whether you jumped once, double-jumped, or dodged once or twice. The variety that combat provides keeps things fresh and fun, and it feels like something new is always being added thanks to the skill tree and weapon upgrade system.
Valkyrie Elysium‘s gameplay isn’t the only part that houses familiar elements of the Valkyrie series. The game’s main narrative feels like a spin on the original Valkyrie Profile. A seemingly hollow Valkyrie is sent to Midgard to purify and collect souls for the All-Father Odin, yet it’s difficult to take him at his word. After spending time with humans, the Valkyrie begins to develop her own personality, question her own existence, and eventually ponder the true nature of her holy orders. The main storyline has a lot of parallels with the original game, and the einherjar stories are equally as sad and bittersweet. Thanks to the small cast of einherjar, there is a lot more focus and personal growth, and seeing them form friendships is a touch I greatly appreciated. While the einherjar stories are melancholic and unique, fans of the Valkyrie series will find the main plot a bit predictable.
The art style of Valkyrie Elysium is something I’ve been on the fence about since the first reveal. The game has a very foggy, almost washed-out look, almost as if it were a cousin of Drakengard 3 on the PlayStation 3. However, the character models and environments are quite high fidelity despite the light haze. At first, one might think the game had little color at all due to the muted color palette, but once the magic starts flying and souls burst from foes, the game truly shines on the visual level. Brilliant bolts of violet lightning illuminate the land when casting Meteor Storm or Thunder Bolt, the world lights up as Fire Lance screams across the air, and the burst of color that comes from a fallen enemy adds a vibrant touch to an otherwise visually quiet world. After spending many hours roaming the dim and washed-out world while casting otherworldly magic, the art style began to feel thematically perfect.
In Valkyrie Elysium, the world is dying as Ragnarök—the end of the world in Norse mythology—rages across the land. From first glance at the world map, much of the world is already burned away, leaving only withering ruins and crumbling cities. Thus, nearly every locale visited in Valkyrie Elysium is merely a shell of what it once was. Great cities are falling apart as waters rise, and castles that once stood as a menacing silhouette upon the skyline now act as little more than remnants of a forgotten kingdom. The world design in Valkyrie Elysium is intriguing despite the dismal look. The former glory that the kingdoms of Midgard—the realm of man—once had is long gone, and the art style reflects that. The choice feels intentional, given how bright and glorious Asgard—the realm of the gods—truly is.
The music of Valkyrie Elysium is also quite impressive. Composer Motoi Sakuraba created dual tracks: one for wandering the world and one for combat. These songs share the same motifs yet are played on different instruments, ensuring a peaceful tone when exploring the world and an exciting backdrop once battle begins. The way the adaptive music plays into the game ensures every track feels right for what is happening on the screen. That said, while the soundtrack is pleasant and has the feel of a Valkyrie soundtrack, not many songs stand out among others. Sakuraba has a very distinct style, yet there is that weird synthy-prog rock found in the earlier games that I certainly miss. After all, weird Sakuraba is best Sakuraba.
Though Valkyrie Elysium does many things right, it’s not without its fair share of faults. While the combat is generally great, chaotic, and exciting, it becomes tiresome and overstays its welcome by the end of the game. This is due to the overabundance of enemy encounters and waves, which becomes relatively exhausting during the last chapter. The game has plenty of enemy types, each with unique moves and elemental weaknesses. More often than not, these enemies are weak to an element you don’t have on your bar or a weapon you don’t have equipped. As a result, it can be cumbersome to pause the game, swap spells and weapons around, and resume. To further stress this feeling, four playthroughs of the final chapter are needed to get all of the endings. Mercifully, the third ending is incredibly brief, with few fights, and each ending is preceded by completely different boss fights.
Developer SoleiL seems to be extremely proud of their work, and they rightfully should be. However, while the foundation is incredibly solid, it feels like the game is restrained, perhaps due to their fear of doing the franchise wrong. While the game leans more on the side of stylish character action, there simply aren’t enough dramatic or setpiece battles and boss fights to make it stand with the greats like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, and NieR: Automata. Weapon types aren’t as varied as they should be, the rune system feels basic at best, and the boss fights feel like they’re missing a certain amount of spectacle.
For many, Valkyrie Elysium may be average at best. However, what ticks it up a notch for me are the themes, elements, and pieces of the Valkyrie franchise that I know and love. Many games have tried to copy the series, only to fall short and become little more than superficial knock-offs that take the combat and little else. Developer SoleiL has managed to take the soul of the Valkyrie games and put it into a new vessel. It may look and play differently, but it certainly has the heart of the series in it. Though Valkyrie Elysium is much better than I’d expected, I’m hopeful the next entry in the series will be less restrained and “safe,” opting for crazier and flashier instead. In the meantime, I’ll continue trying to will Valkyrie Profile 3: Hrist into existence. Maybe this time, it’ll work.